Visiting Mister Softee*

A few weeks ago I visited Microsoft’s Redmond campus for the second time. August 2007, a short eight years ago, was the first. Some things had changed—the presentations were more business solution focused and demonstrated some impressive capabilities (more on that later). Some things hadn’t changed—the experience still seemed impersonal and feature/function focused.

It made me think how different our technology landscape is today than it was then. Here are a few highlights.

then now

Microsoft and their leadership team is pushing rapidly to drive user adoption to a full cloud Microsoft offering. During our meetings it was all about online experiences across productivity tools (Office 365, operating system, PC and Mobile devices) as well as backend systems (corporate applications, databases, and related tools like email, security, identity, access management, etc). They provided two powerful examples of leveraging this technology, one from their legal department and one from their finance department. Matter Center demonstrates collaboration across organizations leveraging multiple communication and collaboration tools. Checkout the video in the link above. This is the environmental context for thinking about how our technology expectations have changed.

PowerBI is their cloud-based data visualization platform. The technology was most impressive and demonstrates next generation of tools coming available in this space. Key benefits included the ease of use, its catalog method, familiar features and natural language query. Even more impressive, however, was how it has remade their finance function into providers of high value consulting to their business leaders. No longer do they spend countless low value hours assembling slide decks and canned reports. Now, they help the business decision makers formulate questions and insights backed with a robust visualization of data. See Power BI for Finance and Microsoft Finance Leverages Power BI to Transform Reporting.

My takeaways from this Redmond visit were twofold. First, it really brought home how rapidly and radically our expectations for technology have shifted (as noted in the table above). Secondly, it painfully portrays the difficulty a company with Microsoft’s legacy, financial and talent resources has in changing its products, business model, organization and culture to meet the new expectations. This makes me examine the challenge of being in professional services (accounting, tax and consulting) and the resulting shift in expectations for an I.T. department. Do our clients (external and internal) realize the shift in expectations? Is there a sense of what is possible? What is our role in leading and facilitating change?

It reinforces my motivation of getting exposure to different industries, areas of the country and world, and different cultures. We must challenge our perspectives and work to understand how others have approached them. How does it map to our own personal, professional and organization’s outlook? As always, I have more questions than answers, but questioning the status quo is a solid first step toward transformation.

Photo by Mark Baker

*Microsoft’s nickname of Mister Softee comes from its stock exchange symbol: MSFT.

Microsoft’s Reboot

imagesAs many know, I haven’t been a fan of Microsoft in recent years. This interesting article (from Vanity Fair, of all places, complete with an Annie Leibovitz photograph) puts the “financial model” angle more front and center in my thinking. Perhaps with Nadella’s leadership, Microsoft will move faster and transform themselves.

In the end, Microsoft’s pricing model that makes many of us wonder why we pay so much may be a key factor in allowing Microsoft to sustain the path to reinvention and stability that we need in this turbulent cloud environment. Will upstart cloud solution providers (, Salesforce, Workday, etc.) that are running at significant losses and depend on successive venture capital rounds (or very patient stockholders) be able to find a sustainable business model? Or will they succumb to being purchased and then be subject to a turbulent integration period? Alternatively, do we in the SMB space have the skill, patience, investment ability and lead-time to make our own “best of breed” decisions to have our own ecosystem of solutions?

Perhaps the recycled “IBM” mantra of the 70s and 80s goes something like, “Nobody ever got fired for waiting for Microsoft.”

Here is a more negative slant on Microsoft’s relevance.

See also my previous comments from April 2014  on Teaching Microsoft to Dance.

Weekly Download 14.15

Here’s a recap of news and notes from around the Web that caught my attention over the past week or so.

download-158006_640Microsoft’s CEO message to employees on July 10 was called Bold Ambition & Our Core. Change is a-comin’. Satya Nadella addresses:

  • A “mobile-first and cloud-first” world.
  • Abandoning “devices and services” which Steven Ballmer rolled out last fall (September, 27 2013 Shareholder Letter), to be replaced by “productivity and platform.”
  • Transitioning from automated business processes to intelligent business processes.
  • Digital work and life experiences.

He comments on culture change:

“Nothing is off the table in how we think about shifting our culture to deliver on this core strategy. Organizations will change. Mergers and acquisitions will occur. Job responsibilities will evolve. New partnerships will be formed. Tired traditions will be questioned. Our priorities will be adjusted. New skills will be built. New ideas will be heard. New hires will be made. Processes will be simplified. And if you want to thrive at Microsoft and make a world impact, you and your team must add numerous more changes to this list that you will be enthusiastic about driving.”

I really like the closing:

“A few months ago on a call with investors I quoted Nietzsche and said that we must have “courage in the face of reality.” Even more important, we must have courage in the face of opportunity. We have clarity in purpose to empower every individual and organization to do more and achieve more. We have the right capabilities to reinvent productivity and platforms for the mobile-first and cloud-first world. Now, we must build the right culture to take advantage of our huge opportunity. And culture change starts with one individual at a time. Rainer Maria Rilke’s words say it best: “The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.” We must each have the courage to transform as individuals. We must ask ourselves, what idea can I bring to life? What insight can I illuminate? What individual life could I change? What customer can I delight? What new skill could I learn? What team could I help build? What orthodoxy should I question? With the courage to transform individually, we will collectively transform this company and seize the great opportunity ahead.”